“And I had but one penny in the world; Thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread”
–William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost
You had to know there was something special about gingerbread. This is no demure sugar cookie, waiting by the side of the plate, hoping you’ll notice them. Oh no, gingerbread is the hussy of the cookie world – strong, spicy, sometimes garish with her gumdrop buttons, not always sweet.
But don’t judge gingerbread too soon – she’s come a long way. First along with the crusaders, tucked in their saddlebags, back to europe after they gave up on the holy land. Can you imagine the smell? I’m sure the ladies waiting at home were grateful for a little ginger to mask that musky man-in-armor-riding-a-horse-don’t-yet-believe-in-baths-thing. After that radical relocation, gingerbread languished for many centuries on the store shelves of the apothecaries and in monastery pharmacies as a cure for the tummy ache and intestinal disorders. Poor gingerbread, considered only fit for flatulence.
But our girl gingerbread bidded her time – by the 1500′s gingerbread was being tarted up with sugar and ribbon and being taken out to every small town fair and church market. Ah, the glory days! But just when gingerbread was enjoying her time in the sun, The Men came and tried to control her (isn’t that always the story?!). By the 1600′s gingerbread was not being baked in homes but rather was made by guilds–”as a means of quality-control” they said to gingerbread, but she know that the real reason was they wanted to limit competition and keep all of her spicy sweet profits for themselves.
Then this amazing thing happened–turns out there was a whole new continent to the west, prime for settlement, by intrepid settlers with no time for guilds or The Old Ways. Gingerbread was liberated from her small life in the guild halls, and brought to America, where she flourished. Well if the truth be told, this was the start of gingerbread’s hussy phase–our north american fore bearers had to make use of ingredients that were available regionally. Gingerbread really got around and mixed with the locals… if you know what I mean *wink wink nudge*. Maple syrup gingerbreads were made in Quebec, and in the South sorghum molasses was used. In Pennsylvania, the influence of German cooking was strong and many traditional Germany gingerbreads reappeared in this area, especially at Christmas time.
That gingerbread, she’s a survivor.
My favorite way to eat gingerbread is in a chewy cookie…you know the ones, with the crackle finish? I believe this recipe comes from a 2007 Canadian Living, but I looked and looked for the link online, and couldn’t find it. So if you’re out there reading this, and you own the copyright to it – please don’t sue. I’m happy to give credit where credit is due! Luckily I have the original dirty greasy-finger stained copy in my junk drawer in the kitchen to share with you:
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp each allspice, cinnamon and ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup fancy molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips [yes. Trust me. The chocolate is delicious!]
3/4 cup granulated sugar
In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir flour with baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, beat butter with brown sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar until well mixed, about 1 min. Beat in eggs one at a time, then molasses and oil. With electric mixer on low, gradually beat in flour mixture just until mixed. Scrape down side of bowl if necessary. Using a spoon, gently stir in chocolate chips. Divide dough into 4 portions. Form into round discs and wrap in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.
When ready to bake, position oven racks in top and bottom thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly spray 2 baking sheets with oil or line with parchment paper. Place remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar in a bowl.
Remove one portion of dough from refrigerator. Pinch off about 1 tbsp and roll into a ball. Roll in sugar, then place on baking sheet. Continue with remaining dough, spacing balls at least 3 in. apart because they spread out while baking.
Bake on 2 racks in oven, switching sheets halfway through baking, until cookies begin to set around edges, 8 to 10 min. Remove baking sheets to a heatproof surface. Let cool on sheets about 5 min. Then remove cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.